Rebuilding a wall of trust

As we collectively face up to some of the challenges around the future of work, digitisation and globalisation the question and availability of trust becomes ever more important.  For society to collectively realise the opportunities on offer we have to be able to operate in an environment that is built around one of the most basic human values – trust.   It is the only way to navigate the unchartered territories that the world is moving into.

With that in mind the recent publication of the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer provides an alarming insight into the recent erosion of trust in society and is a call to action.  The analysis acts as a lens to understand why events like Brexit and the election of Trump happened and importantly what we can all do about it.

Trust is breaking down

The survey, collecting data from 28 countries with over 33,000 respondents, concludes that we are approaching a period where there is a ‘crisis in trust.’  There is a lack of trust across all major institutions in government, media and corporate organisations.   Leaders are singled out as having lost trust (with only 37% CEOs and 29% government officials viewed as very/extremely credible).    Worryingly there is an increasing gap in the breakdown of trust between the informed and mass public.

This is contributing to a predominant feeling that the system is failing and is being replaced with a culture where fear wins out.    Interestingly the findings report on the creation of an ‘echo chamber effect’.   This is caused by people seeking to only follow information sources that reinforce their own personal beliefs at the expense of shutting out the views of others (53% respondents do not regularly listen to opposing views).

Without trust where do we go?

Trust is one of the fundamental pillars of any relationship.  If you can’t trust someone where do you go from there?   The psychologist Amy Cuddy in her recent book Presence highlights the necessity of trust.    Her research indicates that there are two questions people answer when they meet someone new – can they trust you and can they respect you.    Trust is fundamental to any human relationship and without it we’re in trouble.

The findings highlight the need for us all collectively to work on building and establishing trust at all levels of society.  It’s easy to say this is down to a small elite group of ‘leaders’ to fix.   Ultimately the barometer shows that across the entire spectrum people are trusting people less whether this is at work, home or in local communities.   We all need to do something about it.

Rebuilding trust

This is a wake-up call and all institutions need to reflect on what they can do to re-establish trust with their customers and their people.   The question of trust needs to be at the forefront of their agendas

Paul Zak’s recent research provides some practical insight into what organisations can do to increase trust.   His research has shown when people trust others there is an increase of the chemical oxytocin in the brain.    Importantly this chemical can be stimulated in organisations through the reinforcement eight specific behaviours.   The behaviours cover areas like recognising excellence, providing autonomy, focusing on personal relationships, showing vulnerability, sharing information and facilitating personal growth.

But you could just simply summarise it to be “treat people the way you want to be treated.”   Reach out, collaborate and work with others and make this a priority.

The other area organisations and institutions need to face into is the learning and education agenda.   60% of the respondents in the Trust Barometer report a fear of losing their job through lack of skills and training.   Against the backdrop of automation, digitisation and globalisation this is hardly surprising.

Our educational and learning systems need to step up to the challenge.    There needs to be a fundamental rethink in how we promote life-long learning for all to help reduce fear and inequality.    We can’t simply keep putting people through schooling at the start of their careers and wait for retirement   It won’t work in a world where we are likely to have over 10 career changes.

The recent learning survey in the Economist provides some excellent insight into how to do this.   Ultimately we need to support people with both the personal and technical skills to be able to create new careers throughout their life-time.

But ultimately we all have a part to play

It would be easy to conclude that the whole issue or rebuilding trust is down to leaders to address.   This is simply passing the buck and we all have a part to play in rebuilding and establishing trust.

The echo chamber is a case in point.  We think that with technology we collaborate and learn more.    But in reality it can just become a vocal reinforcement of our own beliefs.   We build our own digital walls to help reinforce our own positions whilst failing to empathise or listen to other people’s views or opinions.     We all need to get out more, embrace diversity and individual differences and seek to see things from another perspective.

Looking ahead

Whilst the barometer makes for some pretty bleak findings there is hope provided we take the right action.   Ultimately we all have a part to play in rebuilding trust and that is a wall worth building.

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The power of “not yet”

I was recently heartened to see that my daughter’s school has started to apply some of the principles of a growth mindset in its daily practices.    Against the backdrop of globalisation and digitisation (to name but a few) our educational systems need to change to help our children face the future and I think the ideas behind a growth mindset holds a number of the solutions.

I appreciated the impact it’s had on my daughter when she recently said that she wasn’t very good “yet” at something.    The small addition of a very powerful three letter word – yet – highlighted the effect it is having on her.  Unusually, she wasn’t particularly bothered about the fact she couldn’t do the task now because she felt if she kept practicing over time she will.   The power of “not yet.”

In her excellent overview of the growth mindset Carol Dweck explains the power of “not yet” as well as a succinct explanation of both a growth and a fixed mindset.     You have two choices either you have a fixed view of the world where talents are set and are finite.    Or alternatively adopt a view where with a healthy dose of persistence, effort and resilience you can learn something over time – the essence of a growth mindset.

Traditionally, schools and organisations have a tendency to create and reinforce a rather binary view of success and failure.  You see it through countless symbols like the use of grades or appraisal scores.   The systems simply reinforce that you either have ‘it’ or you don’t.

But there is another way.   Instead organisations and schools should be looking to follow the same approach to create an environment and culture that supports life-long learning and thereby helping their people adapt to the challenges we face in the future.    It doesn’t have to be that complicated either, just by applying a small three letter word is at least a start in the right direction.

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We all need to get comfortable writing new chapters

The more that is written and spoken about the ‘future of work’, and specifically the impact digitisation is having on our lives, the more I think we need to rethink how we manage our careers and personal brands for what will be a much longer time than previous generations.

Recently, Josh Bersin wrote a brilliant piece on the ‘Future of Work’.   Citing research he makes the point that now (not even in the future) the average baby boomer is likely to change careers on average 11.7 times.    To compound this further it’s reported that millennials are changing jobs every two years.   It’s fairly realistic to assume that during our working lives we need to be able to handle and manage more change than ever before.  Individuals, organisations and society need to adapt to this era of constant change where career moves and changes are the norm.

As individuals – people need to take complete ownership of their careers and brands.  You can’t manage your career on autopilot and expect an external agency (like your company) to manage your own career progression.   We need to reflect on what motivates us, what we’re good at and learn new skills to adapt to changing circumstances.  Personal reinvention will be a fundamental skill that needs to be mastered by individuals as we constantly evolve through multiple changes and moves.   We need to be open to change.   We need to have a growth mindset.

Organisations – need to provide more focus on how they support their people during what is a profound period of change and uncertainty. More emphasis needs to be placed on providing people the time, space and opportunities to facilitate changes in skills and experience to grow.  Talent processes can’t be annual affairs, they need to be managed in the moment and balance both external and internal talent pools with a combination of both horizontal and vertical moves.   A learning climate that helps facilitate life-long learning and empowers people to own their careers needs to be fostered as part of an organisation’s DNA.

Society – in a world of numerous career changes our education systems, at every level, need to provide the support and establish the basic foundations to enable people to benefit from this.   You get the sense that the over-used question in schools of “what do you want to be when you grow up?” will need to be kicked into touch. Instead of focusing on linear career progression our educational systems need to instil the values of persistence and resilience to help people manage change.     Education support needs to be provided at every level of society to enable life-long learning.

I think we need to think about how we create different chapters of experience that will reflect a rich tapestry of your working life (which is likely to be much longer than previous generations).   The art will be on finishing one chapter and then moving onto the next one and being adept at constantly evolving your skills and experience.    To support this both organisations and society need to adapt and support people to what will be a combination of an opportunity, risk and uncertainty.

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